Pastor Tony's Sermon March 11, 2018

John 18: 28-40     3-11-18     ACCUCC     Rev. Tony Clark

“What is the truth?”

Listen to this weeks complete sermon by clicking here.

This is a sermon about politics. It is a sermon about power and propaganda and their use in the political realm. This sermon may be impolite.

I know that some of you do not like politics to invade my preaching, so let me tell you what this sermon is not. It is not about the separation of church and state, because that wasn’t a thing back then. It is not a sermon about the balance of powers between an executive, legislative and judicial branch of government, because that wasn’t a thing. This is not a sermon about the lack of unity in a representative government, because that wasn’t a thing. In short, this is not a sermon about today.

Unless you hear it that way.

Pontius Pilate was neither good, nor empathetic, nor particularly wise. He was a powerful man. Pontius Pilate was a political appointee by the Emperor Tiberius to the office of Prefect of the region of Judea; he was appointed about 4 years before Jesus began his ministry; he served about 11 years, until some 4 years after Jesus died.

Pilate lived in and ruled from Caesarea Maritima, the coastal capital of Judea, about 70 miles away from Jerusalem. Caesarea was an engineering marvel, developed from an old fishing port by Herod the Great around the time of Jesus’ birth. It boasted a harbor rivaling Alexandria and Athens in an area with no natural harbor, constructed of cement made of quarried lava and lime.  Soaring over the harbor was an enormous stadium, and an even more enormous palace, in which the Prefect, Pontius Pilate lived and ruled the region. Someone had to quarry the stone and the lime, build the forms for the cement under water, carry the stone, and someone had to pay for it. Actually many someones did the labor and paid the exorbitant taxes-- the people, the peasants, who lost limb, life, and livelihood to build the infrastructure that maintained a tariff free zone and a peace called Pax Romana.

Pilate was incredibly insensitive to the people he ruled.  He bumbled his way through Jewish festivities and rituals, offended the Jews by bringing engraved images of the Emperor into the city of Jerusalem at night, and, ordered symbols of Roman power to be erected at the Jerusalem Temple. He said that anyone who did not worship the Emperor would be killed. When the Jews protested, saying they would rather die than desecrate the laws of Moses, Pilate barely averted a crisis by backing down on the death penalty.

Pilate was known as a harsh ruler, At the end of his reign, Pilate was recalled to Rome by the Emperor for violence against faithful Samarians. The story goes that Pilate and his people claimed that an archeological relic of Moses had been found at the holy site of Mt. Gerazim, and when the faithful flocked to the site for worship, he ordered his military to surround them and slaughter them. For this Emperor Tiberius recalled him to Rome, and he was exiled and ordered to kill himself after his own trial.

 As Prefect, Pilate represented the Emperor with all power in the region. He oversaw the collection of taxes, was in charge of a military unit of about 3000 men, and had judiciary power in concerns of the Emperor. He oversaw the trials of traitors—those accused of treason against the Empire.  He was the Internal Revenue Service, Governor, and Supreme Court of the land. Although the local Jerusalem court, called the Sanhedrin, was relatively independent of Pontius Pilate; the High Priest who oversaw the Sanhedrin was appointed by the prefect. The High Priest Caiaphus, who interrogated Jesus just after his arrest and turned him over to Pilate, was appointed by the Prefect who proceeded Pilate.

Pilate was prone to be persuaded by propaganda, and Caiaphus played on Pilate’s personality and hunger for power. Pilate was in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, the holy day in which Jews celebrated their ancestors overthrowing an oppressive ruler. Pilate recognized that Jews could compare the harsh treatment by  the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and the current Roman Emperor.

Pilate was primed for a fight--predictions of this Passover included violence. He left his tower in  Caesarea Maritima, the financial and civic capital, and arrived in Jerusalem, the center of the faith of the people he ruled. He came with his own National Guard to “keep the peace” and squelch any violence aimed at the state, marching into the city in the glory of a military parade, with banners a horses and rows of high stepping saluting men carrying arms.

The next morning, when Pilate awoke, he received the news from his favorite source, a perpetrator of propaganda partial to Rome, a babbling morning news source that reported there were protestors outside his hotel. The riotous rabble was awaiting a decision about a heretical rabbi who had been arrested overnight. The propaganda continued that the rabbi, named Jesus, had been arrested for calling himself the King of the Jews; he had been questioned for his religious teachings, and he was brought to Pilate not only as a heretic but as a traitor.

Caiaphus, or one of his representatives, whispered the propaganda to the most powerful person in the land. He might just have reminded Pilate that tax evasion was treason, that Jesus had called tax collectors to leave their posts and follow Jesus.

Pilate questioned this rabbi, named Jesus, himself, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus, the smarter of the two, answered in true rabbinical form with another question, “Are you asking this on your own or did someone tell you this about me?” Pilate’s answer, that he was not a Jew, implied he did not know that much about Jewish customs and titles. Pilate told Jesus that Jesus was being accused by the High Priest, and then he asked him what he had done that was so bad that his trial was rushed and the case against him had to be heard before Passover festivities could even begin. Jesus said the most political thing he could, “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.”

In a world of Kings and Prefects, “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world,” is a political statement. It is a statement of power of governance, of tax collection, of judicial activity. It is a statement delegitimizing the person in power and looking elsewhere for that leadership.

Pilate, at first, did not see anything wrong with this statement; it was a local problem not a national one. It was an internal problem within this bizarre faith that didn’t worship the emperor, had a silly spiritual law against graven images, and prayed to a God who blessed the poor, the weak, the elderly, the enslaved. Pilate knew that the only god of the realm, the Emperor Tiberius, blessed the wealthy, the powerful, the strong, and those who were loyal to him.  Pilate wanted to be blessed by that god. There was one king, Tiberius, and Pilate was his local representative. This “King of the Jews” did not threaten him. The crime did not rise to the level of him.

It was when Jesus said, “I was born into this world to tell about the truth,” that Pilate began to wonder about the propaganda he had been fed. He wondered What was true? What was news? What was fake news? so he asked, “What is the truth?” Pilate began to wonder if trusted Caiaphus had an agenda. Perhaps Pilate pondered whether he had been played as a puppet to the propaganda machine. Who had the truth, this humble rabbi or Caiaphus?

Caiaphus and the other chief priests  called for Jesus to be killed on the cross for claiming to be the King of the Jews. The crowd, stirred up by the propaganda of Caiaphus also joined in the cry to put Jesus to death and release Barabbas. Now Barabbas, barely a blip in this story, was a bauble, a pretty shiny thing dangled before the crowd to distract them; John wrote that he was a bandit, reminding us that bandits steel the attention of the sheep away from the calming voice of the Shepherd.

Pilate asked the people how he should decide. He sent out short statements, and small questions, and if he had had a Twitter account, these short bursts would have fit in the 140 characters. The crowd, in their mob mentality, took responsibility for Jesus’ death, and Pilate symbolically washed his hands of the affair. Pilate asked if they wanted him to nail their king to the cross, and the crowd cried, “There is only one king; the Emperor is our king.”

Jesus had said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingdom, his political realm, is a place where life, not death, is truth. His kingdom was not focused on wealth and power and violence, but, rather, his political realm blessed the poor, the powerless, and the peacemakers. His kingdom did not rely on propaganda or fake news; it relied on relationships that built on the truth love.  Jesus’ political statement was that this Kingdom from another realm built on love, not the kingdom of politics and propaganda and power, is the truth.

Claiming to be a citizen of that kingdom, rather than a party to the power and propaganda of this world, is a political action. May God protect all peoples who take the political stance of their faith, and may God protect peoples everywhere from propaganda, unexamined political power, and people like Pontius Pilate. Amen.

Pastor Tony's Sermon March 4, 2018

John 18: 12-27     3-4-18     ACCUCCC     Rev. Tony Clark

We are still three weeks until April Fools’ Day, which will fall this year on the same day as Easter. This is apt because  Easter is when we reclaim that God foolishly loved the world, that the cross was foolishness, that it is foolish to love in a world so broken as ours.

We are three weeks past the day we celebrated love and marked ourselves as human. We are three Sundays past Valentine’s Day when we sent cards to those we love. Valentine’s Day was also Ash Wednesday when a dozen or so of us stood together to receive a sacred symbol of our humanity, a symbol that reminded us of our commonality with all life—that we will all end up back as the mud from which we came. As we marked our own biology, we asked God to create a new heart in us. Yet, how quickly my heart was broken.

Even before the ashes were put on my forehead we knew that 17 people had been killed in yet another school shooting using a rapid-fire AR-15. My heart broke, and perhaps yours did, too, as I heard the NRAs fear-mongering call for arming teachers and denying the need for stricter gun laws. My heart continues to break as our country remains polarized in an all-or-nothing approach to gun control. Can we not stand on a solid middle ground listening and loving both those who rely on hunting for food and those who want certain guns removed from circulation? Or am I one of the insane ones who believe that restricting the deadliest of weapons does not mean restricting every gun? It seems that, like Peter did, we are denying Jesus’ words to love one another.

 While on vacation, my heart filled again with love for our world, for the creative forces of fire and water, of lava and ocean, and the interconnectedness of it all. Yet my heart was quickly broken again when I returned to hear that ICE had done raids in the Bay Area over the weekend, arresting 150 undocumented members of our community Love seems so far away, three weeks behind us and three weeks before us, but not right here with us. It feels to me that we are denying Jesus’ teachings to love your neighbor.

How many times must we deny the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and his teachings of love?

Peter denied his relationship with, his love for, and the words of Jesus three times. “Are you not one of his disciples?” he was asked twice; “No, I am not,” he said, twice. “Were you not with him in the garden?” he was asked, and he said, “No.”   Peter did not only deny Jesus’s words and Jesus’ love, he denied his own identity as a disciple of Jesus, a person of faith, a human being who was formed out of mud in order to love others and to love God. He denied his own connection to Jesus and to God.

Peter’s words are a denial of who Jesus and God are; Peter’s “I am not,” is the opposite of God telling Moses at the burning bush, “I AM;” Peter’s “I am not,” is the opposite of all of the times in the Gospel of John when Jesus said, “I am”: I am the light of the world, I am the way the truth and the life, I am the gate, I am the shepherd, I am the vine and you are the branches, I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus said, “I am,” and Peter said, “I am not.” 

That night, after Jesus’ arrest, Peter stood by a gate and denied the voice of the shepherd who was calling him to follow. Even when he stepped through the gate, he stood by a warm fire on a cold night as a lone sheep in the midst of thieves and wolves and denied his relationship with the shepherd.

Peter denied Jesus three times. After that he did not see Jesus again alive. However, Peter did meet Jesus again, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, twice with the disciples in the room behind a locked door, and then once on a beach after a fruitless night of fishing.  On this third meeting, after Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they gathered all the fish they could ever eat, Jesus took Peter aside and gave him a chance to repent of his denial. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?” and three times, Peter responded, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.”  And Jesus after each of those three reversals of the three denials, Jesus said, “Take care of my lambs,” “ Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” then Jesus, always the head shepherd, left these words for Peter,  “Follow me.” Do not wait by the gate like you did that night, when you denied my voice, when you denied my love, when you denied following the Shepherd through the gate to the good pasture. If you love me, Feed my sheep, and Follow me.

As Peter denied his connection to Jesus, he also denied who he had become in the last three years. Jesus, though, did not deny anything. He was unafraid to step through gates, to lead the way. On the night of his arrest, after washing his disciples’ feet and delivering a long prayer for the disciples and all future followers, he led his disciples across a stream to a garden, a grove of olives, which I can only suppose was behind a gate. He herded his disciples through the gate, and then, as the guards approached, he stepped back out through the gate and asked, twice, “Who are you looking for?” The guards said, twice, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus answered, twice, “I am he.” Later, when the High Priest asked Jesus to deny his teachings, Jesus replied “My teachings were in the open, in the synagogue, and the Temple. Why do you question me? Ask the people who were there what they heard me say.”

Remember the man who was born blind, on whose eyes Jesus placed the mud of creation giving him sight? The authorities asked that man three times who had healed him. “It is he,” he said twice. The third time he said, “I have already told you. Why do you want to hear it again?” The authorities’ denial of his truth about his sight was a precursor to their denial of Jesus’ truth about his teachings.

Are we again in a place where authorities are denying the truth of those who speak out in love against gun violence and those who offer love to undocumented community members?

When the guards approached to arrest Jesus, Peter defended the life of his teacher and friend by pulling a sword and doing violence. Jesus told Peter to put his sword back in its sheath. In the face of violence, Jesus chose love, saying, “I AM. I WILL BE.” Even as love that rose through violence, Peter chose denial, saying, “I am not.”

Jesus did not resist arrest, but went peacefully. As the Shepherd, Jesus walked through another gate to the High Priest’s home, while Peter stayed outside the gate waiting for the voice of the unnamed disciple whom Jesus loved (could that have been Mary Magdalene?). Peter entered the gate following that Beloved Disciple’s voice, but only after he had, for the first time, denied the voice of his Shepherd.

 The authorities could not hear, they could not listen, they could not follow. They denied the I AM. They denied the Word of God, the Light of the World, the Way the Truth and the Life. And the fear-mongering of the authorities made Peter step into that space of denial, denying himself, and his connection to the I AM. We know that the I AM seeks life, not death; the I AM seeks life lived in the fullness of a beautiful green pasture, where the I AM makes us to lie down beside cool waters.

Always the Shepherd, the I AM offers pardon to those of us who, out of fear, deny the truth, but then step through the fear into the truth of love. The I AM is Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. The I AM is the Shepherd who calls to his sheep, over and over and over again, until they cannot hear the fear, calling us to follow the voice of love beyond the gate to the beautiful pasture. The love reaches through the fear, the denial, the trial, and the death. And the love pulls us to life.

When we, like Peter, deny the I AM, even then, if we can say, “Yes, Lord,” when Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?” he will pardon us, trust us, offer us love, and say “Feed my sheep. Do not deny them life. Love them. Follow the Word of God, the Light of the World. Follow Me and full of love, our fishing nets will catch more fish than we handle.”


Faith is a Verb... Musings by Pastor Tony March 2, 2018

Darrell and I returned from Hawaii late last Sunday, a trip to celebrate my 50th birthday. We were on the Big Island of Hawaii for a week, soaking up the tropical weather, volcanic landscape, and the flora and fauna of a different biome. We stayed near Kilauea, and several days we went into the Volcanoes National Park. You cannot get very close to active lava, but at twilight and in the dark, you can see the red glow from the crater lighting up the rising column of smoke. The last night there, we had reservations at the restaurant overlooking the crater, and I was overwhelmed by the new creation that was all around me. I was also moved by the violent destruction that takes place before any new creation can occur there; an explosion blows off the top of a crater, lava flows and kills anything in its path. While expanding the size of the island it creates a barren landscape that will take centuries and millennia to return to rainforest. The power of Pele, the goddess of Volcanoes, Creation, and Fire, was present in that space.

Soon we will be undergoing our own new creation, and it will require some demolition. The north, east and south sides of our property will be undergoing new landscaping with mostly native plants, a project funded by the bequest of Jill Bryans. It will require removal of some of the plants that are currently in our publicly visible green spaces. There will be mud, there will be noise, there will be the inconvenience of getting around and through the different areas of our outside space. There will be the power of machines, and the vulnerability of new growth as we upgrade the face we present outward to our community.

The work is slated to begin right after Easter Sunday, and continuing through much of the Easter Season. What a theologically appropriate time to start create a new garden! We will see death, resurrection, and new life right in our front yard. Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and I’m praying that he will oversee the resurrection and new life of our new, native landscaping.

As it gets closer we will let you know where the work will be and if there are any restrictions to entrances on the property. For now, as I look out my office window at the rain, and think about all the rain we experienced last week in Hawaii, I know that from rain comes growth, and I look forward to the completion of this next project in our Vision 2020 plans.

Prayers to all of you as we move through Lent and into the season of Easter.


Pastor Tony

Pastor Tony's Sermon February 11, 2018

John 9: 1-41     2-11-18     ACCUCC     Rev. Tony Clark

My life is dark. My vision is blank. I cannot see.

Yet, I have learned that music is light, people talking is light, the sound of a coin tossed into my metal cup is light.  I was born blind, but I can hear, and I hear things that you don’t even know I can hear. I can hear the whispers between lovers from across a courtyard, I can hear sheep bleating on the distant hillside, and I can hear the voices calling me sinner and unclean as they enter and leave the Temple. I can hear how different people walk, shuffle-step, clomp-clomp, heel-toe-heel-toe, or tippy-toes across the road. I hear the wheel of carts, and the whff whff of horses’ breath as they march past. I have created a beautiful landscape in my mind, a landscape of sound and smell, of touch and taste. This wall is rough, except for here, right around the mezuzah, where people touch it as they enter.  This road is dry and dusty, but there is the sound and smell of water over there by the Pool of Siloam. And I can tell what farm a pomegranate came from merely by the taste. Landscapes. Maps. I hear these words, and I know them by sound and smell, taste and touch.

I hear the voices of rabbis and students chatting as they enter the Temple. As they enter the holiest site, the students want to know about holiness, and about purity, about being clean before God and why there are so many unclean among us. I could answer if they ever looked at me, if they ever talked with me. I could tell them that there are so many unclean because the laws tell us we are unclean. If you started seeing me as clean, calling me clean, then I would be clean. This isn’t about dirt under my fingernails, or mud on my tunic. This is simply a worldview that says I am unclean. But I am not unclean. I am blind. And I bet I can see better than most of you.

Another Sabbath, another rabbi and his students approach, and this time it seems I am the center of the conversation. “Why is he blind,” they ask. “Did he sin? Or did his parents sin?” The rabbi looked at me, and said “He is blind, not because of anyone’s sin. Let God’s power be seen at work in him.” Then I felt him kneel down before me, and I heard him spit and his spittle hit the ground, then I heard him scrape the mud with his fingernails. He said, “I am the light of the World.” Suddenly I felt his muddy hands touch my eyelids, and he told me to go wash in the Pool.

Open my eyes, that I may see

glimpses of truth thou hast for me;

àplace in my hands, the wonderful key

that shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now, I wait for thee,

Ready, my God thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit Divine.

The people do not seem to care about the importance of this place, and not just this place, but the rites that have been going on here for a thousand years. The people are merely sheep. Do they think the Law of YHWH takes care of itself? It takes discipline, and work to maintain something so powerful as the ancient words of YHWH. You may think those words are as fragile as carved stone that can break, or parchment that can burn, but they are not. They are the most powerful words in the entire cosmos. The Law is a fence that protects the purity of our people, purity that the thieves and wolves who come barking at the gate want to desecrate. Do they not remember the destruction of the Temple and the Law when the Babylonians attacked? Do they look past the desecration of the Temple and the Law when the Greeks placed their idols in our holy rooms? The Law must be held, it must be protected, or else we will face desecration and destruction of YHWH’s most holy of houses and YHWH’s most powerful words.

Do they not see how fragile we are, how easy it is for us to stray from the Law, to leave the fence and wander unprotected? The unclean cannot have access to the holiest, purest site of our faith. The Law cannot be diluted, the fence cannot be broken. We must maintain it, repair any breeches, shore up any fallen timbers. The Sabbath must remain sacred or else it will become profane, a day when shops are open for convenience, and work is done out of the need for increased productivity. We cannot turn away from YHWH, or else YHWH will turn away from us.

This one, this magician, who calls himself a rabbi, heals the blind on the Sabbath. Does he not see what he has done to the fence? Is he blind to the Law? He teaches that he is the Light of the World; how can he profane YHWH’s name that way? He is a blasphemer, a law-breaker, a desecrator of our holy Temple. He invites the unclean to wash and become clean; but that is not his to determine. The unclean only become clean with ritual purification, a rite of forgiveness, an act of profession, and a blessing from the high priest. That is the Law. That is the fence that protects these people, these sheep!-- from charlatans, faith healers, and money-grubbing magicians. If a priest does not perform the rites while the Unclean one professes his sin, then the fence is broken, the Law is desecrated; the thieves and wolves will enter the hearts of the people. And then what will happen? Who will mend the fence? Who will maintain the Law then?

Open my ears, that I may hear

Voices of truth thou sendest clear;

And while the wave-notes fall on my ear,

Everything false will disappear.

Silently now I wait for thee,

Ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my ears, illumine me,

Spirit Divine.

“Who has sinned, this man or his parents?” I thought that was a simple question! But Jesus, nothing is simple with him. He knelt and spat on the dirt, and rubbed mud in the poor guy’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. “No one sinned,” he said. “We shall see God’s work through his blindness,” he said. “We cannot wait to do this work at night”—I suppose because we would all be without sight in the darkness—“we must do it now in the day,” he said. Then he said, “While I AM in the world, I AM the light of the World,” he said. He used those words, I AM, the words YHWH spoke on the mountain to Moses, saying I AM, I WAS, I WILL BE. I AM the Light of the World. And a man who lived his life in total darkness was now in the Light.

It was the Sabbath. I didn’t expect such a fierce a reaction. The Pharisees said it was a sin to heal on the Sabbath. They did not believe that the man who had lived in darkness all his life, now saw in the Light. They did not believe his neighbors when they told them; they did not believe him when he told them; they did not believe his parents when they told them.  They did not believe him a second time, when he chided them for being like us, students of this great Rabbi, asking the same questions all day long. I’m not sure whether he insulted us or them! For his insubordination, they expelled him from the Temple.

 Nor did they believe Jesus when he told the once-blind-now-sighted man that he was the Son of Man. They did not like what he was saying, they did not like how he broke the Law, they did not like how he blasphemed the name of the Holy One, they did not like how he led the people like a shepherd leads his sheep.

“I came to this world,” he said, “to judge your relationship with the One who sent me. I came so that you may know the truth, that in the darkness live those who can see, and in the light are those who cannot see what is right before them.”  He said, “I AM the shepherd for these sheep. They listen to my voice, not the voice of the thieves and wolves. While the gate is open, I will call my sheep and they will follow me beyond the fence, where there are other sheep of my flock. I will call them and they will follow my voice.”

Open my mouth, and let me bear

Gladly the warm truth everywhere;

Open my heart and let me prepare

Love with thy children thus to share.

Silently now I wait for thee,

Ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my heart, illumine me,

Spirit Divine.

Pastor Tony's Sermon February 4, 2018

John 4: 1-30     2-4-18     ACCUCC     Rev. Tony Clark

Listen to this week's sermon by clicking here.

The Samaritan woman at the well is perhaps the most maligned woman in history. An unnamed woman, a Samaritan, married five times and living with a man who was not her husband, talking to an unmarried man at a well in the heat of the day, and history has painted her as a trollop, a tramp, a sinner, a prostitute.

However, the reality is probably none of those things. She was smart, and she was the first witness to spread the word about Jesus in the gospel of John. She was held captive by a patriarchal system that kept women from owning property—in fact they were more like property than free-- and women were only known as the daughter of that man, the wife of another man, or the mother of this man. Nameless, she represents most of the women in the Bible, who are unnamed extras with walk on parts in the Greatest Story Ever Told. Beholden to the power of men, women are early examples of today’s #MeToo movement and not granted personal consent for what happened to their bodies or their lives. 

Five times married. That’s who she was. The town gossips, watched her as she did her work alone. They would say, “What was wrong with her?” “She must be cursed.” “Her mother was a sinner, so no wonder she turned out this way.” Afraid they might be cursed by being near her, the gossips avoided her.

Yet it wasn’t always that way. When she was young, she was beautiful, adored, and had many friends. She married at 13, typical of the day, and her husband was an older man. She left her father’s house to join her new husband’s house. No longer her father’s daughter, she was now her husband’s wife, and she did her best to respond to her husband’s needs. She went each morning and evening to the well, chatting with the other women about her new husband, and her hopes for having children, especially sons to carry on his name. All of the women chatted about their daily lives, their children, who was engaged, who was pregnant, who had died.

The well was not just a spot to get the water they needed to live; It was a place of necessity, and it was a place of relationship. The local legend had it that it was the well where Jacob and Rachel met.  Besides being the place for the relationships between women who gathered there every morning and evening, the well was a place with a relationship to the faith, and it also was a place of romance where relationships between men and women might start.

As she went to the well twice a day, the days turned into weeks, turned into months, with the women asking her every day if she was pregnant yet. She always said, “No.” The months turned into years, always carrying the water, and still she had no children. She prayed fervently, even as twice every day she carried her water jug to the well empty, and carried it home full.

As months turned into years with no children, her husband got increasingly angry with her, asking her, “What is wrong with you? What sin did you do that was so bad that God has cursed you with no children?” After a few years, he did what was legally allowed--he divorced her because she was barren, which leaft her to fend for herself. She remarried, but her friends wondered what curse had been placed on her, what sin she had committed, why God was not blessing her with children. They began to abandon her, a few at a time; still, a few loyal ones continued to talk to her on the walk to the well.

Again, no children, and again she was divorced, and then remarried, and again. Each time she married, there were no children, then a divorce, and she lost more friends. She lost status at the well, having to wait further and further back in the line to get water, until she found herself at the end of the line. No one, not even those few loyal friends, talked to her any more. She was shunned, and shamed, and finally she gave up, figuring if no one was going to talk to her, she would go to the well when no one was there, in the middle of the day. Being alone with her thoughts and prayers was better than being lonely in a crowd of finger-pointers and gossips.

The husbands got progressively older, and less desirable. A few had been kind, but most had seen her as necessary as a chamber pot. By the fifth husband, she was demoralized, disregarded, demonized as a serial divorcee. Alone, she would go to the well in the middle of the day, even though it was stiflingly hot, because she could get the water at her own pace without the stares and glares of the other women.

And then her 5th husband died. The law required her brother-in-law to take her in, not necessarily to marry, but to be cared for. She was property of the patriarchy of husband after husband, and now a brother-in-law, and she was slavishly chained to carrying a water jug to a water well when no one else was around.

Until one day, at noon, a thirsty man was sitting at the well. He asked her for water, but had no bucket. She knew what it would look like; talking to a man at the well where Jacob met Rachel, she knew how the village might gossip, and she also knew how desperate it could be to be so thirsty. Already shunned by her village, she broke every boundary and offered to help him.

And he looked at her, and guessed what her life was. Alone at the well in the middle of the day, he presumed she had been shunned by the other women, probably for being divorced for being barren, and he told her honestly, without judgement what her life had become. Even though she had enough water, her life was as dry and dusty as the desert, loveless and lonely, and he offered her the water to make her life have meaning again.

The conversation about water had become spiritual, and she asked the theological question of the day, “Where should we worship God?” It was a question borne out of 1000 years of division between her people and his-- since David’s unified kingdom split apart and became the Northern Kingdom of Israel, whose capital was Samaria, and the Southern Kingdom of Judea, whose capital was Jerusalem.  “Where should we worship God?” was a question borne of 500 years of feuding, since the people were returned from Exile. The southerners rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple and the northerners built a new temple on Mt. Gerazim, which, although it had been destroyed some 130 years before Jesus, was still used as a sacred site, and the Samaritans worshipped among its ruins. “Where shall WE worship God?” was a question of unified identity, noting that Samaria and Judea, hating each other for centuries, worshipped the same God. And “Where shall we worship God?” was a question asked by all the gospels after the Jerusalem Temple had fallen.

Jesus answered that we shall worship God where God is, in Jesus. When she asked if he was the Messiah, Jesus answered, “I AM,” the words God used with Moses at the burning bush, “I AM.”

Jesus told her he is Living Water, the necessary provision from God for life. Water, the liquid that lies liminally between land and the breezy breath of God. Life that turns dry, dusty, demoralized, disregarded, and demonized divorcees into the ones who witness to the Messiah.  She who was property of the patriarchy, shunned and shamed by her village, she who had spent years slavishly bearing water twice daily to her many husbands, dropped her water jug in order to bear the news of Living Water to her whole village. She who had lived a life of dark loneliness, shunned and shamed as if she was invisible, returned to the well surrounded and seen by her community. She who had been cursed by God for not birthing life, was blessed by God to speak life into being. She who had been judged a sinner by her village was not judged by Jesus, but seen for who she was, not an immoral woman cursed and childless, but a lonely but theologically astute woman with good news to share.

And the Samaritans, who had been shunned by Jerusalem and divorced from the Judeans centuries before, the Samaritans believed, and were brought back into the fold.

A thirsty man needing water, Jesus a Jew “needing” to go through Samaria the hated country (there were safer ways to get to Galilee!), the Messiah needing a witness, a shunned woman needing community, and a shunned nation needing a site to worship all came together at the well of Jacob.

A man and a woman met at a well, and relationship happened, relationship between a woman and God, between the world beyond Jerusalem and God, relationship between Samaria and Jerusalem. A man and a woman met at a well and life happened. Living water flowed, life abundant flowed, love and community flowed.

May we come to the well to offer water to those who thirst, may we be filled ourselves by the Living Water, and may we be turned out to tell the world. Amen.